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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: August 2016

5 - Selling the War

from Part 3 - The Case for War


By the end of 2001, the neoconservatives had successfully put Iraq on the agenda. Administration hawks were now determined to topple Saddam Hussein. But they still needed a convincing rationale to show that Iraq posed an imminent threat. The quick collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had quieted some of the revanchist fury. The trauma of 9/11 was wearing off. The flurry of false alarms, beginning with the anthrax scare, and the frequent tweaking of colour-coded terror warnings were meeting with increasing scepticism. Grumbling was getting louder inside the government. The war party was losing momentum.

But by autumn 2002, the hawks had defeated internal opposition, secured Congressional authorisation, and cowed the public into endorsing the war. After his April 2002 visit to Washington, the head of Britain's MI6 Richard Dearlove had reported that, ‘intelligence and facts were being fixed around [the policy of regime change]’. Bush had already embraced the idea of preemption in his 29 January 2002 State of the Union speech. He reiterated it in his promulgation of the ‘Bush Doctrine’ during his 1 June 2002 speech at West Point. Pre-emption became official policy with the National Security Strategy of September 2002.

The turnaround had come as a result of a coordinated effort by the neoconservatives and their allies to manufacture a case that presented Iraq as an imminent threat. The campaign used government and private channels to circumvent institutional barriers. It began with an unlikely source.

The great terror of a threatening storm

The administration's case got an early boost from articles appearing in the liberal press, from publications ostensibly critical of the conservative administration. The authors were not neoconservatives, but, like the neoconservatives, viewed the Middle East through the Israeli prism. In March 2002, the New Yorker published ‘The Great Terror’, an 18,000-word article by Jeffrey Goldberg that invoked the Nazi Holocaust to emphasise the scale of Saddam Hussein's crimes. The core of the story was an interview with a prisoner, Muhammad Mansour Shahab, being held by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya. Shahab claimed to be a gunrunner for Al-Qaeda who had relayed lethal materiel from Iraq to Afghanistan. Both Bush and Cheney cited the article as proof of the connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.